By the Housing Assistance Council
One of the biggest successes in reducing poverty has been among older Americans. Until recent decades, elderly persons in the United States experienced poverty rates at much higher levels than the overall population. The enactment of safety net programs such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare have likely contributed to the reduction in the poverty rate of seniors over the past half century. In the mid-1960s, nearly 30 percent of seniors in the United States were in poverty – this has steadly declined to 9.5 percent by 2013.
While these reductions in older age poverty are significant, these reductions have not occurred evenly across the board. Rural seniors experience higher poverty than seniors nationwide, at 11.4 percent, and older women have higher poverty rates than their male counterparts. Overall, 14 percent of rural elderly women have below poverty-level incomes, compared to 8 percent of rural men over the age of 65. Senior minorities in rural areas are among the poorest and worst housed groups in the entire nation. While just 10.8 percent of all elderly households in rural America are headed by minorities, they account for 22.9 percent of all rural elderly households in poverty. In comparison, 9.12 percent of all rural white, non-Hispanic individuals fall below the poverty line. Additionally, while poverty rates for seniors are now lower than the overall population, the looming demographic shift of baby boomers progressing into older age may present challenges that halt, or even reverse, this progress.